You may or may not have found God in your life, but if you read Ben Ehrenreich’s new novel, Ether, you will find God — and find him in situations and positions not unlike many of the rest of us face daily. Who said surviving on our beautiful blue ball was going to be easy? Apparently hard times are not only prescribed for humans but, whoever you are, attempting to navigate our modern landscapes just becomes trickier as each day goes by. And if you happen to be a ‘redeemer,’ who has lost his powers and the ability to make real connections with other beings (beings you may have had some say in creating), then you better duck and cover for mighty sparks are going to fly.

Writers are often voracious readers and Ben is certainly not the exception to this rule. But it’s the actual physical book that he loves and so has no interest in following the latest e-reader or tablet trends. In a piece he authored, titled The Death of the Book, he states, “I adore few humans more than I love books. I make no promises, but I do not expect to purchase a Kindle or a Nook or any of their offspring. I hope to keep bringing home bound paper books until my shelves snap from their weight.” Perhaps someone should suggest some shelving to Ben that is constructed from something other than brittle material.

While it’s true, the man does love his books, his affairs with the printed page go right to the heart of the matter for it is ‘words’ he says he loves as well as the language itself, which propels his pen to paper. Reading his novels it becomes as evident as the shady side of the street that an original voice is at work; a voice worth following not only into the shadows but also into all the corners, crevices, back rooms and dumpsters of humanity. And when the voice grows weary of the deserted backstreets, it often decides to defy gravity and fly off through the stratosphere into heights and atmospheres unknown.

For this exclusive interview for GALO, I spoke with Ehrenreich on the phone from Modesto, California and discussed in depth his new book Ether, his insights into his favorite writers, and his influences. Not one to withhold information on his writing, he also told me how he enjoys creating new ideas and how our winged friends, the birds, without any planning, often end up dropping unexpectedly into the stories he writes.

A quick wit and sophisticated sense of humor not only spark and light up Ehrenreich’s writing, but also helped send our conversation way up past the broken bookshelves and into the starry ether.

GALO: Before you were able to make your way as a writer did you need to go the way of ‘survival’ jobs such as bartending and the like?

Ben Ehrenreich: Oh yeah, sure. Not bartending–but I worked in the kitchen of a bar. I waited tables, I cooked, [and] I bussed. [I] had a series of crappy office jobs, and eventually kind of started making a living as a writer by getting a temporary clerical gig at LA Weekly in the late 90s, and did every menial job that was to be done there for a little while. Then [I] started getting chances to write, eventually that became a semi viable way of making a living, to my great surprise and pleasure.

GALO: Your mother is the well-known writer Barbara Ehrenreich. How did her work influence you as a child?

BE: I think mainly just the example of growing up with a writer in the house and kind of understanding that this person, who goes down into her office [and] disappears into this dark room in our basement for most of every day, and sits in front of a computer, this practice of writing–which otherwise seems like the sheerest lunacy and masochism–is in fact a normal way of life.  She was very disciplined.

GALO: So is this what helped you decide that it would be a good idea to pick up the pen?

BE: I grew up around books and was an enormous, enormous reader. My parents definitely encouraged me to read a lot and I didn’t need a whole lot of encouraging. And eventually I think I figured out that there wasn’t anything, as difficult as it is and as miserable as it often can be, there wasn’t anything else that brought me the freedom and pleasure that writing brings. The pleasures of being able to open up another world through language and bring whatever questions and problems you’re trying to figure out, whether they’re philosophical problems or problems of language or whatever, and test them in creating alternate worlds — I feel really lucky to be able to do that.

GALO: Many reviews and articles about Ether comment on the character known as the stranger. I assume you are aware of the existentialist novel by Albert Camus entitled, The Stranger.

BE: Yeah, and I read it, probably read it more than once when I was in my late teens. But I wasn’t thinking about it at all in writing this book. And I think in some early moment, I thought maybe I shouldn’t call him the stranger, but it was what I wanted to name him, so…

GALO: So Camus’ book had no direct influence on Ether?

BE: No. There are the sideways and sneaky ways that books invade your subconscious, you find things coming out in your writing that you’ve read without thinking about it; they may have happened here, but nothing direct.

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